Posted by: ourtravelingcircus | July 7, 2010

Dachau

Before we left, Tim and I discussed whether or not to bring the kids to Dachau. We talked to several people who had been here, and got completely different responses to whether it would be a good idea to take the younger ones. We ended up taking them. As I had hoped, the more horrific aspects of it went right over Elizabeth’s head. Still, she and I had some interesting talks on our walk through the concentration camp. I’m reading Exodus to her right now, and I think it helped in her mind to be able to parallel Pharoah’s irrational hatred of the Jewish people and his cruelty to them, and Hitler’s hatred and cruelty to the Jews and to others who disagreed with him. She had already asked a lot of questions during our reading time about why Pharoah did what he did, and why people make wicked choices. It was providential to have already had those conversations at home so recently, and something I could never have planned. As we went through the camp, we explained only the bare minimum to her, and there were some of her questions I chose not to answer. The older kids read the signs (all of which are in English as well as German), but we didn’t discuss or elaborate on them too much either. Tim kept Margaret and Elizabeth outside while I took John and Katherine into the museum part of Dachau. That was mostly reading, and they wouldn’t have lasted long in there. Katherine has done a great deal of reading about the Holocaust, and it was very moving for her to be able to come. I was surprised that John asked to go into the museum.

Dachau was not primarily an extermination camp. In fact, only 25% of the prisoners were Jewish. The rest were dissenters of various kinds–either political or religious. There were many members of the clergy who were brought here. It was also the only camp open throughout the entire Nazi regime. It was in continuous operation for twelve years.

Walking into the main gate.

Inside the barracks. Believe it or not, these were the “good” barracks. They had an example in another room of how the barracks looked toward the end of the war, when there was severe overcrowding in the camp. There were no dividing pieces in the beds–prisoners were forced to pack in as closely as possible.

As filthy as the prisoners were themselves without adequate hygiene items, the guards turned keeping the barracks perfect into a torturous game, where the slightest deviation from their ridiculous standards would lead to severe punishment.

In the crematorium area.

I think what I found most disturbing and horrifying was the fact that with the exception of the ovens, the rooms look incredibly normal. I was expecting something that looked foreboding or evil. These rooms were just very plain, ordinary rooms for such terrible things to take place.

This area is directly outside the camp. Just inside the gates, there is a small Jewish memorial, a Roman Catholic convent/chapel, a Russian Orthodox chapel, and an evangelical church. We got to the church just as they were finishing Sunday worship. I so regret that we didn’t know that was taking place or we would have taken part in it. The people inside were singing a beautiful hymn. Tim was able to get a sound recording of them singing the last verse. Since it seems to be in German, and I don’t recognize the tune, I don’t know what they were singing. But it was sung in parts and really beautiful. That was what kept playing in my head as we went through these awful rooms directly after that. It was comforting. All these years later people are able to worship on a spot where one of the greatest atrocities of the twentieth century took place. Hate didn’t win.

“Work makes free.” Obviously an incredibly twisted definition of “free.”

The last line is both telling and sad.

This sculpture is outside the main buildings in the spot where the prisoners were forced to line up for roll call each morning.

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